Aristotle's De Anima

In memory of Kurt J. Pritzl, O.P. (1952-2011)

"...with good reason we should place the inquiry about the soul among the primary studies."

September 7
Edward Halper, University of Georgia
Aristotle’s De Anima and the Possibility of Thinking Being
Abstract: A central feature of Aristotle's account of our rational faculties in De Anima III is an analogy between sensation and thinking (429a17): just as the sensible form that exists in the object perceived comes to exist, without matter, in our sense organ, so the intelligible form of the object thought comes to exist, without matter, in our intellect. There are, however, a number of ways in which this analogy breaks down. Whereas the account of sensation describes a causal mechanism that propels the sensible form from an object, through a medium, and into a sense organ, there is no apparent causal mechanism through which the intelligible form is transferred from the object to a human mind, nor is there any medium that carries the intelligible form. Indeed, it is hard to see how there could be a mechanism or a medium to transfer intelligible forms. Moreover, whereas sensation might plausibly be understood as a grasp of a form, there is certainly far more to thinking than grasping an intelligible form. Drawing on III.6, this paper presents an account of thinking that preserves important features of Aristotle's analogy while also showing how Aristotle uses points of difference to elucidate the character of thinking.

September 21
Jean De Groot, The Catholic University of America
Pritzl on Aristotle's De Anima
Abstract: My paper is an overview of the incisive interpretation of De Anima advanced by Fr. Prof. Kurt Pritzl, OP, late dean of the School of Philosophy. Beginning with the meaning of De Anima as a general account of the soul, Prof. Pritzl delineates the essential elements of Aristotle’s hylomorphism (the unity of soul and body). His explanations are textually based, and he articulates principles for the intelligent reading of Aristotle.

Prof. Pritzl presents Aristotle’s understanding of perception as a form of cognition. He does not hold that perceptual awareness supervenes (appears as an additional property) upon a physical process of sensing. He understands perceptual cognition as just being the end of a type of alteration that is not ordinary physical change.

He offers a convincing account of imagination as a faculty of non-intellectual discrimination. This provides insight on both the cognitive powers of animals and the role of imagination in human discernment. His integrated interpretation of the soul extends through the later chapters of De Anima III.

Sources for my presentation include the 2010 course of lectures on De Anima given by Prof. Pritzl in the spring term at The Catholic University of America.

September 28  
Kevin White, The Catholic University of America
Aquinas and De Anima III.6: A Response to Kurt Pritzl

October 5
Arthur Madigan, Boston College
Dialectical Inquiry in Aristotle, De Anima I
Abstract: It is a commonplace that Aristotle routinely begins his inquiries by surveying the views of his predecessors.  These surveys are regularly described as dialectical.  But what exactly it means for an inquiry to be dialectical is a matter of some dispute.  What we can and cannot hope for as the result of dialectical inquiry is another matter in dispute.  Whether Aristotle ever really moves beyond dialectical inquiry is a third matter in dispute.  This paper will attempt to describe Aristotle’s procedure in De Anima I, compare it with his procedure in other contexts, and test various current opinions about Aristotle’s dialectical method.

October 12
Sean Kelsey, University of Notre Dame
Aristotle on Thinking vs. Perceiving
Abstract: Both in De anima 3.3 and in Metaphysics Γ 5 Aristotle makes out as if the failure of earlier thinkers to distinguish between perception and thought led some of them to hold, or at any rate liable for, the view that all appearances are true. Why does he think so?One answer to this question, suggested by an important paper of Victor Caston’s, is that if you don’t distinguish properly between perception and thought, it will be impossible to explain how we ever go wrong (e.g. by making it impossible to see how things are ever even presented to us other than how they are). For according to Aristotle, it is characteristic of sense-perception, at least in its most basic forms, that its content is entirely determined by its cause (stronger than that, is identified with its cause). If thought worked in roughly the same way, the result would be that it is impossible to think what is not: cause and content being identical, it will be impossible for them to ever diverge, as is required (on such a view) if we are ever to represent things as other than they actually are. In this paper I try out a different and (in a way) opposite answer: that, in Aristotle’s view, if you don’t distinguish properly between perception and thought, it will be impossible to explain how we ever go right (by making it impossible to see how we ever get a view of things as they are in themselves). This answer takes its impetus from the consideration that the doctrine that all appearances are true is (after all) deflationary about truth: it works not by improving our aim, but by switching the target, to one so close that we can’t miss, with the result that the original target (if such there be) remains forever out of reach. That Aristotle takes such a view of the doctrine gains plausibility from the well-known resonances of Metaphysics Γ 5 with Plato’s Theaetetus.

The difference between these answers is important for the views they invite of the problem Aristotle thinks he faces in developing his own conception of thought. My suggestion will be that the problem is not to hit upon some device whereby misrepresentations can be brought before the mind’s eye, so as to make it possible that we are now and again taken in by them, but rather to find a way whereby we can separate out those aspects of how things appear that owe their character (so to speak) to our perspective, so as to consider them as they are in themselves.  

October 19
Jonathan Beere, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
The Intellectual Capacity as the Form of the Human Animal

October 26
Ronald Polansky, Duquesne University
Aristotle on Accidental Perception
Abstract: Aristotle's De anima concentrates on the soul's main capacities and their principal objects.  Yet Aristotle indicates that there are also accidental objects in the case of sense perception.  Though these are not especially important to the De anima, we explore the several sorts of accidental perception that Aristotle observes because they are interesting and important beyond this treatise.  He speaks of perceiving such entities as the son of Diares as an accidental object, common sensibles are perceived accidentally along with proper sensibles, and the proper sensibles of one sense are perceived accidentally by another sense.  We hope to arrive at some worthwhile conclusions regarding the perception of these sorts of objects.

November 9
Andrea Falcon, Concordia University
The Place of the De Anima in Aristotle's Explanatory Project
Abstract: Elsewhere I have argued that it is the interest on life—not an interest in this or that form of life but an interest in life in all its forms and manifestations—that motivates Aristotle to engage in a study of the soul.[1] But how does Aristotle conceive of the study of life and, more importantly, how does he think that his study of the soul contributes to the study of life? I will approach these questions starting from what we are told at the outset of the De sensu, where a link is established between the study of the soul and the study of life: since it was determined before about the soul, next it is to be investigated about animals and everything that has life [De sensu 436 a 1-6].

[1]          See A. Falcon, “The Scope and Unity of Aristotle’s Investigation of Life,” in G. van Riel and P. Destrée (eds.), Ancient Perspectives on Aristotle's De anima. Leuven 2009: 167-181.

November 16
Therese Druart, The Catholic University of America
Aristotle or Galen?  Islamic Philosophers on Animal Cognition
Abstract: Some Hellenistic philosophers—notably, Plutarch (later 1st to early 2nd cent. A.D.), Sextus Empiricus (2nd-cent. A.D.), and Porphyry (3rd-cent. A.D.)—were critical of some of Aristotle’s views on animals in various works.  With respect to the De anima in particular, they criticized his contrast between cognition of particulars by sense perception and cognition of universals by intellection, because it does not allow for a good account of some aspects of animal cognition and behavior.   But Aristotle is more generous in treating of animal communication, “political” life, etc. in his zoological works; and he fleshes out his views on the inner senses and their complexity with greater subtlety in the Parva naturalia.  Philosophers in the Islamic world read Aristotle as a systematic philosopher, and were puzzled by the tensions between his philosophical works, such as the De anima, and his zoological works.  They also all read Galen who, they thought, in his De methodo medendi, claims that donkeys—the lowest kind of animals—know species and, therefore, some universals, because, when they are thirsty, they are looking for water in general, and not particular instances of water.  Al-Fârâbî (870-950), Ibn Sînâ (Avicenna, before 980-1037) and Ibn Bâjjah (Avempace, d. 1138), well aware of tensions in Aristotle’s works, strive to give a better account of animal cognition and behavior in developing the psychology of the inner senses. This move allows them to counter Galen’s claim.  Al-Fârâbî treats of animal communication, Ibn Sînâ of a certain level of self-awareness in animals, and Ibn Bâjjah of “general” cognition by animals.

November 30
Richard Taylor, Marquette University (cancelled)
Averroes on Knowing Separate Substances
Abstract: At De Anima 3.7, 431a16-19, Aristotle voices a promise unkept in any of his known works: “In every case the mind which is actively thinking is the objects which it thinks. Whether it is possible for it while not existing separate from spatial conditions to think anything that is separate, or not, we must consider later.” (Smith & Barnes) This statement was thought by a number of medieval philosophers to be a promise to address the issue of whether separate substances — including God — could be objects of human knowing during earthly existence. This presentation explicates the view of Averroes on this issue, a view frequently misunderstood due to confusion of his account with those of other thinkers of the Arabic tradition, a misunderstanding to which the pseudo-Averroean De Beatitudine Animae has contributed much. Among the philosophical issues at stake is just how the Aristotelian noetic doctrine of the identity of knower and known could apply to knowing separate substances which are immaterial forms.

December 7
Timothy Noone, The Catholic University of America 
Scotus and Scotists on Aristotle's De Anima

All lectures are held at 2:00 p.m. in the Auditorium of Aquinas Hall at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 20064

Live streaming video of most lectures can be viewed at Afterwards a link will be posted above where the video can be viewed at any time on YouTube.

A research guide to this lecture series is available through the CUA Library.

This series is made possible by a generous grant from the Franklin J. Matchette Foundation and the support of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation and the George Dougherty Foundation.

For further information, contact the Office of the Dean, School of Philosophy, 202-319-5259,

To request disability accommodations, contact Mary Z. Smith (x5259) at least a week prior to the event.  A good faith effort will be made to provide the accommodations requested.